Success vindicates Bil’in protest organizers

Israel Defence Forces fire tear gas at Israeli, international, and Palestinian demonstrators protesting the security barrier Friday, June 16 in the village of Bil'in (Ryan Ariel Simon)

Non-violent tactics spread across West Bank

By Ryan Ariel Simon

BIL’IN, West Bank (June 17) – Despite the tears that filled Basel Mansour’s eyes from teargas and clothes soaked by sewage-smelling water sprayed by Israeli soldiers to disperse peaceful demonstrators in the West Bank village of Bil’in on Friday, the Palestinian peace activist said he emerged a victor.

“Their teargas and sewage water will not deter us. We have taken the peaceful struggle a step forward today. We defied the soldiers by not backing away from the Wall when they sprayed us with that horrible smelling water. They will not stop us from approaching the wall to tear it down,” Mansour said.

Basel Mansour, an organizer with the Popular Committees against the Wall and Settlements stands covered in "skunk water," a water smelling like raw sewage, after marching down to the security barrier cutting through his village of Bil'in Friday, June 16 (Ryan Ariel Simon)

Mansour is one of the organizers of a seven-year-old non-violent protest against the building of a barrier that split the 4,300 dunams in Bil’in village and confiscated 2,300 dunams of their land. The confiscated lands have been used for the Jewish settlement of Modi’in Illit, and the barrier itself.

Bil’in won a rare victory in 2007 when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the route of the barrier illegal, and ordered the state to dismantle the old fence and re-route it, though it has yet to do so four years later.

“There is no law and justice in Israeli courts,” said Mansour.

Israel says the barrier is a security necessity to prevent suicide bombers from entering its territories, but the Palestinians call it a “racist separation Wall” and a land grab because it has been built on West Bank land and has led to the confiscation their of land. The International High Court in the Hague has condemned the building of the Wall and has called on Israel to immediately dismantle it.

The non-violent nature of the protests in Bil’in village, home to 1,800 Palestinians, has drawn supporters from Israel and the rest of the world. Some American and European peace activists have lived in Bil’in for over three years to support the Palestinians in their efforts to dismantle the Wall and try to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied West Bank lands.

The Bil’in model has been copied in other West Bank areas such as Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh, villages near Jerusalem.

Israeli activists march Friday, June 16 from the village of Bil'in to the security barrier along with Palestinians and international activists (Ryan Ariel Simon)

The weekly protests, usually taking place on the Muslim Holy Day Friday after noon prayers, followed a usual pattern: the pace activists would march towards the barrier carrying Palestinian flags and chanting national slogans. As they draw closer to the barbed wire fence, Israeli troops massing on the other side of the fence would fire tear gas and spray the demonstrators with water that smells like sewage.

Protesters said the smell could not be washed away for days.

At times, the protests turn violent when Israeli soldiers fire rubber bullets and the Palestinians would retaliate with stones. It usually ends with the soldiers jumping the fence and chasing the protesters, detaining whoever they could their hands on.

This Friday was calm compared to other more violent days.

“1,2,3,4, occupation no more. 5,6,7,8, Israel is a fascist state,” the column of protestors shouted.

Ambulances turned their sirens on and rushed to the fence to rescue protesters from the teargas, which caused several to lose consciousness and stop breathing.

Despite the feeling of helplessness, some, like Rabia Turokman from Jenin refugee camp, have abandoned what the Palestinians call “armed struggle” to non-violent protests, saying it constituted a more powerful weapon to regain their lands confiscated for settlements and the barrier. He now advocates peace working as an actor in the Jenin Freedom Theatre.

“It’s more satisfying on stage than with gun in hand,” said Turokman the former fighter, covered like Mansour, in the putrid stench of the water cannon, his eyes dripping with tears from the gas.

It was the late Juliano Mer-Khamis, director of the theatre, that told him point blank to put down his gun. He complied even though, he said, “The IDF doesn’t distinguish between fighter and actor.”

The village of Bil’in is occupied, like the rest of the West Bank towns and villages. It is under total Israeli military control, an area called Area C under the Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals, and which constitutes over 60% of the West Bank.

In 2002, Israel re-occupied parts of the West Bank that had been handed over to Palestinian rule in 1993 under the Olso peace deals.

“The occupation is provoked by peaceful demonstrations,” said Turokman, the actor, “they don’t like that were peaceful, and activists are with us.”

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